Stuart Robert MP is Shadow Minister for Defence Science, Technology and Personnel.

Developing a strategic view is one thing, funding it is entirely another. While the 2009 Defence White Paper developed a reasonable strategic outlook, in the years since its release the disconnect between the Government's strategic focus and its funding commitments has only widened. 

Frankly, little has changed in the region that necessitates a 2013 White Paper, though clearly much has changed in domestic politics.

At its heart, Labor's 2013 White Paper will be more about aligning the savaged Defence budget with a reduced level of capability and is not likely to provide any realistic assessment of Australia's security drivers. Labor is now situating the strategic assessment to fit into these constraints.

Enough of the politics of Defence. It is high time we recognise the centrality of a rigorous, strategically aligned Defence Capability Plan (DCP) as being crucial to any meaningful White Paper process.

By way of history, the forward estimates prior to the treacherous 2012-13 Federal Budget contained $10.2 billion in DCP spending. The 2012-13 Budget reduced this by a staggering $3.5 billion or 34%, with project definition funding reduced from $45 million to $25 million. Approximately 43% of the DCP, or 75 projects, was impacted by these cuts.

Consistency has been dispensed with and any strategic approach has now been abandoned. The DCP has become the Government's piggy bank and the evidence is clear for all to see. For example, less than 10% of the 2010-11 approved second pass budget of $4.128 billion has been expended and less than 20% of the 2011-12 approved second pass budget of $3.614 billion has been expended. Fighting Peter has been robbed to pay social welfare Paul, in the hope that Paul will vote Labor.

This must change. The DCP must be seen and valued for what it is: the Government's plan to provide the capability behind the strategy. The next White Paper must therefore include capability acquisition and sustainment as central to its development. Defence industry must be engaged and there must be an exact alignment between the strategic direction of the White Paper and the capability it will enable it. The resultant DCP must have a 10-year horizon and must be rigorous enough for industry to literally 'take it to their banker'.

Furthermore, I see no reason why defence industry should not be integral to the development of the DCP. A number of defence industry representatives should be part of the DCP development team, especially representatives from the defence industry networks and teaming centres, but also major contractors and SMEs. Defence capability is too complex to keep industry outside the room; a paradigm shift in thinking is now needed.

To ensure this shift in thinking provides a credible output, generating and sustaining the DCP must move into the 21st century. This will require an electronic tool that links every area of White Paper strategy to the enabling capability that will empower it, including budgetary and schedule constraints. It is at this point that determining whether a capability is a Priority Capability (and therefore must be done in Australia) or whether it is a Strategic Capability (and therefore must have at the least a guaranteed supply chain) must take place.

Industry's capabilities should also be assessed and matched to each area of strategy. Delivery, interim and final operating capability must be included, as must key dates for all approvals, including that of the executive to ensure timely decision making. Such an electronic tool could then quickly outline the impact of a project slip on the wider capability it was feeding into and the wider elements of the ADF joint strategy.

This cannot be achieved using the current spreadsheet approach. It will require a relatively sophisticated electronic tool that builds the DCP, acts as a decision support system to guide any changes and finally becomes the major DCP executive information system to allow the minister to quickly understand the impact on capability of decisions made to cut projects. No more green traffic lights on a Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) brief because they have re-baselined a project. DMO won't be able to hide from an integrated tool, nor will Capability Development Group or the minister's office. That's the beauty of sunlight, it shows the warts on both the pauper and the prince.

The minister's protestations that the budget cuts will not affect capability are ludicrous. You can't impact 43% of the DCP and not make a dent in capability. The problem is that no single tool is available that will quickly outline the impact on strategy and resultant capability from cuts and delays. This allows a minister to hide behind obscurity.

This must change. Loyalty, respect and commitment all start at the top. They start at the minister's door where he/she takes responsibility for decisions based on the full knowledge of the impacts. It is time to ensure this full knowledge exists, that the downstream capability development process is rigorously understood and documented and decisions are made in the full light of consequences. 

Photo by Flickr user tkw954.